ESO Images Rogue Planet

Artist’s Impression of Rogue Planet
Credit ESO

The image is strangely compelling;  a lone planet,  drifting endlessly through the dead, cold void of space.   Science fiction writers love them, one such world, Danaan, was the subject of the The Eternity Artifact, by L.E. Modesitt Jr.   In that novel, the planet’s extreme velocity and a trajectory carrying it straight out of the galaxy suggested alien engineering, providing the rationale for a last moment excursion before it passed into intergalactic space. Now, astronomers using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope and the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope have likely imaged just such a world, designated CFBDSIR2149, roughly 100 light years from Earth. Like Danaan it is also on the move, a fact which is helping to provide unprecedented detail on its makeup.  Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately given the implications, there is no evidence of a cosmic level public works program underway.

The candidate planet, whose movement through space appears to correlate with a group of young stars called the AB Doradus Moving Group, is estimated to be between 4-7 times the size of Jupiter.  The association with the Doradus group is important in that it suggests the body in question is itself a very young planet as opposed to much older, “failed” brown dwarf star. If this is indeed the case,  the planet would be in the same age range of the moving group, between 50 and 120 million years with a temperature of 430 degrees Celsius. Ongoing research may yield more detailed information about the planet’s atmosphere.

There is still a distinct possibility that the planet’s proximity to the star group is entirely incidental, and it is instead an orphan planet in the most literal sense,  ejected from its parent star system like an errant  cue ball flying off the pool table.  Albert Einstein famously asserted that God does not play dice with the universe, but with current estimates that there may be more such wayward planets than main sequence stars, billiards may be a different matter entirely.

The find is also interesting in that it tends to confirm on a galaxy-wide level,  something we are learning about our own home solar system on a daily basis, namely that outer space is a far more fascinating place than we ever once imagined,  and its capacity to surprise remains joyously boundless.

Posted in: Space Science

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1 Comment on "ESO Images Rogue Planet"

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  1. Pete says:

    A fine article, Stewart Money!

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